It has been over five years now since the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act that bans sex-determination tests was enacted in January 1996. But few measures have been taken to ensure the female foeticide law’s effectiveness.
A fortnight ago, The Indian Express carried an article, where its correspondent posed as a decoy customer and named one doctor in Delhi and one in Faridabad for conducting the sex-determination tests. The Health & Family Welfare Ministry and district health authorities swung into action. Working closely with the Lawyers’ Collective, complaints against the two accused – Dr PD Gupta of Delhi and Dr OP Sharma of Faridabad – were filed in the district courts.
If proven guilty, the doctors can be imprisoned up to three years and have their medical licenses cancelled.
Since the Director, Health & Family Welfare, is the “appropriate authority” with the statutory power to implement the Act in Delhi, two doctors from the Department of Family Welfare went to investigate Dr Gupta’s medical records at his Daryaganj clinic. They came back with proof of his guilt.
The Ministry of Health & Welfare also held a meeting with district authorities to discuss recommendations to give the PNDT Act more teeth.
The medical fraternity, however, did little to condemn their guilty colleagues. According to the article, despite the lip service they have been paying to “evil of female foeticide”, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Medical Council of India have taken no concrete action. All IMA did was write a letter to the two doctors asking them if they had conducted the sex-determination tests.
However, a majority of the life-giving doctors do have their soul and integrity intact. Speaking to Parentspitara, gynaecologist Dr Ritu Pandit, who operates from her private clinic in South Delhi, said, “The amount of people coming here for these tests is amazing and shocking. Inspite of the media hue and cry all over India, about women’s growing stature at home and work, India is still very male-dominant. Couples still prefer to have sons. I have couples who immediately leave when they know I will not conduct a sex-determination test.”
Another gynaecologist Dr Rahul Taneja suggests: “What we need is a total literacy revamping at the core. Right from the rural towns to urbanites. Middle class and upper middle class couples come to me and want an assurance that it is going to be a boy. Only then will they have the child. When I refuse, not only do they get angered, but they also try to make me feel guilty – for not being kind because I am a doctor!”
Over the past years despite several laws against it, female foeticide cases have been “rampantly” reported from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi.
But, there is hope. At a meeting of authorities appointed to implement the PNDT Act, the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, Mr CP Thakur, had called for social movement to tackle the problem of female foeticide. He said that several national level non-governmental organisations would take up projects for generating awareness about the provisions of the act among doctors, public and law enforcing agencies.
He also sought cooperation of the NGOs in listing and enumerating the premises where medical termination of pregnancy were being performed.
But alongwith the listing, it is also essential to act. And act fast. As Dr Taneja puts it: “Without educating the average people, we will never see the horizon.”